A mere three-quarters of a century later, industrialization ushered in the Age of Endarkenment, and human life has grown more and more perilous ever since. The Golden Age of capitalism cannot be recreated merely by applying the right mixture of spending, subsidies, re-regulation, and international agreements. Because the economic advantages of industrialization rely on overproduction and profit, balanced trade is impossible if the advantage is to be preserved; it entails no economic profit.
Industrialism is a Hegelian synthesis which
embodies the forces for its own destruction. The greatest threat to the
Western Way of Life is the Western Way of Life itself.
But most manmade problems could be avoided by
careful and complete analysis of the ideas that, when implemented, have dire
John Stuart Mill published his Methods in his System of Logic in 1843. The mathematical method known as reductio ad absurdum has been employed throughout the history of mathematics and philosophy from classical antiquity onwards, as has the method known as counterexample. And root cause analysis is a highly developed method often used in information science and other places.
Oddly enough, however, even most well educated
Americans seem to be unaware of any of these analytical techniques, and when
attempts are made to analyze ideas, these attempts are rarely carried out
logically or all the way to their ultimate ends. Americans rarely "follow
the argument wherever it leads;" even those good at analysis often stop when
they come across something that looks appealing.
Why this is worth mentioning is difficult to fathom.
Overproduction has always been associated with economic busts, and such busts have happened with such regularity that economists have even incorporated them into theory by euphemistically calling booms and busts the "business cycle."
The question that must be asked is,
And the answer is industrialization.
Accidents in factories were regular. In 1788,
two-thirds of the workers in cotton mills were children; they were also
employed in coal mines. Henry Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins argue that
the bulk of the population suffered severe reductions in their living
standards. Although life in pre-industrial England was not easy, for many it
was better than laboring in factories and coal mines.
The best craftsmen were renowned as artists. Some are still renowned today: Thomas Chippendale and George Hepplewhite, for example.
The integral strength of Windsor chairs has never been duplicated in a factory. Handmade textiles, Persian rugs, even handcrafted toys are renowned for their artistry. Today that pride and satisfaction accrues only to hobbyists, such as quilters, but never to industrial workers. The Industrial Revolution degraded human life to the status of coal.
People became fuel for machines. Bought cheap,
people are used until unneeded and then discarded like slag. Individuality,
talent, imagination, originality - the best attributes of human beings - are
suppressed to the point of extinction. The Industrial Revolution sucked the
humanity out of the human race; people became things.
As it spread, the amount of excess products that needed to be exported grew and grew, and the number prospective foreign consumers shrank and shrank. Because there is little economic advantage (as economists measure it) in trading exports for imports of equal value, the international economy necessarily divides into net exporting nations who are enriched and net importing countries who are impoverished and less and less able to afford imports.
The system has to be patched or the machines
would grind to a halt. Most of the work of economists since the middle of
the nineteenth century consists of developing patches for this collapsing
system. Comparative advantage, creative destruction, free trade, Keynesian
stimuli, and even social programs (which would be unnecessary if the economy
provided for the needs of people) are merely attempts to patch the system,
to keep the machines running.
Manufacturers have been steadily reducing the quality of products ever since. An essential part in a device is made of an inferior material so the device fails far before its time and becomes junk, batteries in devices are soldered to their circuit boards so that when the batteries die, the products becomes junk, one fewer olive in every jar means more jars are sold, and the jars become junk. Economists like to claim that the system produces the best products at the lowest cost, but in reality it produces the exact opposite.
As more and more products must be discarded and replaced, the discarded junk is hauled to landfills or dumped in oceans. But as landfills grow larger and larger, another patch is required - recycling. But it too is ineffective. Batteries soldered to circuit boards cannot be recycled, every half-filled can of paint cannot be taken to a recycling center, separating useful elements from the useless ones is often a hazardous task.
The system produces junk!
Humans originated about 200,000 years ago. The Soviet Union launched the first Sputnik into space in 1957. In less than 60 years, less than a mere three tenths of one percent of the time people have inhabited the Earth, the industrial nations have put so much junk into near outer space that the junk now endangers the functionality of operational satellites.
Abandoned industrial sites are often highly
toxic which often require cleanup - another patch. Often complete cleanup is
impossible. Toxic residues are a species of junk. Keeping the machines
running necessitates the production of it.
Ultimately too many nations will be too poor to be importers, and the machines in the exporting countries will cease to function.
Industrialism is a Hegelian synthesis which embodies the forces for its own destruction. The greatest threat to the Western Way of Life is the Western Way of Life itself.
Patches may prolong
it, but they cannot remove its contradictions.
No, it's not possible, but the impossibility lies in the system's logic, not in its effects.
To use the preferred diction of economists, the system is unsustainable. Since the collapse of the industrial system is inevitable, a fundamental rethinking of the way the economy works is the only alternative. It has always been the only alternative.
But even that leaves humanity soaking in the pickle. When the economic advantages of industrialization have dissipated, humanity will still be stuck in a world filled with bioundegradable junk, hazardous sites, raped environments, the unending consequences of the often accidental importation of alien species, polluted air and water, and numerous other consequences, the costs of which economists have never taken into consideration.
And the progeny of both the rich and the poor alike will have to live with them.
The pockets full of money that the rich have won't prevent their children and grandchildren from breathing bad air or drinking bad water or dealing with environmental degradation. These children and grandchildren may someday curse the days their fathers and grandfathers were born. Capitalism, as we know it, is reaching its endgame.
The meek who inherit the earth will find it to
Industrialization does not efficiently allocate
resources; it squanders them.
The ultimate question is,
answer appears to be no!
Natural disasters can be catastrophic, but their destructiveness is usually limited, and the really horrendous ones are rare. Manmade disasters are ubiquitous, very extensive, and difficult, perhaps impossible, to repair. Had mankind been wise rather than merely smart, most manmade calamities could have been avoided.
Que Sera Sera! Whatever will be will be will be.
The future is plain to see, and it's not pretty.